NanoBioTech Institute Sends Hopkins Senior To Belgium For Summer Research

Michael Keung

Michael Keung

This summer, Michael Keung, a rising senior in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, will participate in the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program. INBT’s IRES program, funded by the National Science Foundation, allows students to collaborate with researchers from Hopkins and The Inter-University MircroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium. Students work at IMEC’s world-class microfabrication facility and learn to design, fabricate and test chip-based platforms and integrated microelectronic systems for biomedical applications. The goal of the program is to help students gain a broader, global perspective of science and technology.

Michael is working on a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering (ChemBE) with a concentration in interfaces and nanotechnology with a minor in entrepreneurship and management. Before he left for Belgium on May 30, he answered a few questions about how he became involved in INBT’s IRES program. While abroad, Michael will keep a blog so that everyone back home can read about his experiences at IMEC and in Europe. To read Michael’s blog, “Summer 2009 at IMEC,“ go to http://www.keungatimec.blogspot.com.

1. Why did you want to participate in INBT’s IRES program?

I think it is safe to say that a large majority of students consider Hopkins to be extremely, if not overly, rigorous. Any opportunity to take a break from school work or getting off campus is welcomed with wide, open arms. After my sophomore year at JHU, I was strongly considering some type of travel abroad, whether it was taking classes or doing an internship, to get a break from Hopkins and Baltimore.

I first heard about INBT’s IRES program from an email distributed from my principal investigator, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering David Gracias (an affiliated faculty member of INBT). I wanted to be a part of this program because it provides an amazing opportunity to further one’s education, both academically and personally. IMEC has world class facilities and has been a leader in nanoelectronics and nanobiotechnology. I can’t imagine any better way to spend a summer than traveling around Europe and working in such a renowned facility as IMEC.

2. What do you hope to learn about nanobiotechnology, business, research etc.?

I hope to learn new fabrication techniques and ways of perfecting the current ones I am already familiar with. By bringing these back to the Gracias lab, perhaps we will be able to improve our own fabrication methods. Additionally, I hope to become exposed to the biological side of nanotechnology. As a ChemBE concentrating in interfaces and nanotechnology, my exposure to the biological aspect is very limited. With this research opportunity, I hope to broaden my academic scope.

3. How did you prepare yourself academically and personally for your trip?

Coming from the Gracias lab, I already have a lot of experience with microfabrication. The processes that we use to fabricate our structures are similar to the techniques used over at IMEC. IMEC, however, has very large facilities and equipment with greater resolution than what we have at our disposal at Hopkins. My research background with the Gracias lab has prepared me academically for this trip.

Personally, one thing I am definitely taking with me are Dutch and French dictionaries. I have a feeling that I will need it, considering I have zero background in either language. The whole language barrier problem should be fun trying to get around, albeit frustrating.

4. What skills do you hope to gain from this research trip?

I hope to gain skills in perfecting the fabrication techniques employed in the Gracias lab. By integrating the experience I obtain at IMEC with our lab here at Hopkins, perhaps we may be able to fabricate new types of micro and nanostructures.

5. What research project will you be working on?

The project will be a collaborative effort between the Gracias lab and IMEC. The Gracias lab has experience in fabricating 3D self-assembled structures ranging from 100 nanometers to several millimeters. The group I’ll be working with over at IMEC has experience in fabricating plasmonic nanostructures that are sensitive towards the attachment of biomolecules. Together, we will be working on fabricating nanocubes with plasmonic nanostructure cavities on each face of a cube. This will allow us to demonstrate directional sensitivity in three dimensions on the nanoscale and have importance in surface enhanced raman spectroscopy (SERS) experiments in fluids or even in vivo.

6. What qualities do you think you bring to this research trip?

Personally, I will be bringing the cube fabrication experience from our lab and combining it with the resources over at IMEC to fabricate new types of plasmonic nanostructures.

7. What do you think will be the most challenging part about your trip?

One aspect of this research experience that will be challenging to acclimate to is the different equipment on the IMEC campus. When working with the instruments in the Gracias lab, you get familiar with the workings and intricacies of the equipment. I do not know about IMEC specifically, but at some companies, technicians operate each specific piece of equipment, such that one individual never fabricates a wafer from beginning to end. Although getting acquainted with new procedures will be challenging, they will have to be overcome.

Additionally, I think being submerged in a new country and culture will be very intimidating. I have no experience with the Dutch or French languages, so a language barrier will definitely be present between me and some individuals. Also, I have never traveled to Europe, so I am aware that I will probably experience a culture shock in terms of traditions and lifestyle.

8. What do expect will be the most fun about your trip?

I think I will have a lot of fun being exposed to the different fabrication techniques and equipment over at IMEC. Plenty of researchers over there are leaders in their field. It will be a very pleasurable experience to be working and learning side-by-side with them.

Not to forget the fact that it is Europe, I will definitely be traveling around to different countries on the weekends. I have already planned the cities I am going to visit along with the train routes I will need to take to get there. Although I will be working at IMEC on the weekends, I will be pseudo-backpacking around Europe during my free time.

9. What do your family and friends think about you going on this trip?

I am very excited and grateful to INBT for being given this great opportunity to travel to Europe and perform research at IMEC. My friends and family are very excited for me, most wishing that they could join me. Everyone has been very supportive of this opportunity and I am incredibly excited to begin my journey.

10. Anything else?

This is the first year of the IMEC program, and I know that it took a lot of work to get it off the ground. I would like to thank Thomas Fekete, Ashanti Edwards, and everyone associated with the program, I now cannot wait for it to begin.

Links:

Michael Keung is keeping a blog on his adventures at IMEC in Belgium.  Click here to read it.

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